Friday, June 2, 2017

Whitsunday and the Vigil of Pentecost

A couple of weeks ago at Sunday Mass, our Parochial Vicar at Blessed Sacrament opined during his homily that many Catholics do not understand the Holy Spirit. As with many things in the Church today, I think part of the problem is that our liturgy has not celebrated the Holy Spirit as it should. For example, how many Catholics realize that the Solemnity of Pentecost is one of the greatest celebrations of the Church year--second only to Easter? How many realize that the Vigil Mass of Pentecost has different readings from the Mass of Pentecost Sunday? (Usually the evening Mass on Saturday has the same readings as the Mass on Sunday.) Since for many Catholics what they see and hear in Sunday Mass or in the parish bulletin is all they know of the Church's doctrine and tradition, it's essential that something at Mass this weekend makes these distinctions clear for those with eyes to see. The sequence that we will chant or recite on Sunday fulfills that role, for example.

As the Adoremus Bulletin website explains:

The Roman Missal’s most recent English edition includes several revised rites, new prayers, and adjustments to the rubrics. While many of these revisions require further explanation, one rite in particular deserves some special attention—the Vigil Mass for Pentecost. The two previous editions of the post-conciliar Roman Missal included only a proper Vigil Mass for Pentecost. However, the extended form of the Vigil proposed in the current Roman Missal brings forward to the present a part of our liturgical tradition that has both deep roots and contemporary value.

In our earlier tradition, Pentecost was a principal occasion, along with Easter, for the Church to carry out the baptism of adults. The mysteries of the Resurrection and Pentecost, in ways unique to their respective commemorations, express a sharing of divine life with those who belong to Christ, and especially so for those to be newly incorporated into his body, the Church. Over time these two days saw the development of vigils to watch for the following day’s solemn observance. The proclamation of the Word of God and a response to it would be the chief manner for keeping watch. Also, over time, these vigil days would be marked by fasting and penance in anticipation of the celebrations of the events of the Lord on the solemnity to follow. Likewise, during different periods, these commemorations had octave celebrations associated with them to give liturgical expression to the eternal reality of these same mysteries of Christ. The recently reformed General Roman Calendar sees Pentecost Sunday as the Eighth Sunday of Easter, the conclusion of the eight week celebration of the Resurrection. So, Pentecost brings to a fitting and final end the celebration of the Resurrection with the promised sending of the Holy Spirit, which in a sense completes the event of Easter. The day before Pentecost is no longer a day of fasting and penance and there is no longer an octave. And, it is no longer a principal day for the baptism of adults. However, it is Pentecost and the anamnesis found in the euchology and the biblical texts is compelling and vivid. With the today—hodie—of Pentecost, there is a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. It is fitting to keep watch—with urgent prayer—for this coming of the Holy Spirit!

As the possibly apocryphal story goes, Blessed Pope Paul VI wept when he realized that the Octave of Pentecost had been suppressed, with his approval, because he saw green vestments prepared in the sacristy for Holy Mass on Pentecost Monday instead of white vestments. He could have reversed the change then and there, deciding that it was a mistake that should not be allowed to stand. As Yves Congar writes in his book The Meaning of Tradition, the liturgy is one of the main ways the Church hands on Tradition, the teachings that Jesus told his Apostles to hand on when He ascended into Heaven.

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